AFTER cycling through the gruelling hills of western Victoria into Hamilton yesterday, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott was pragmatic when he addressed a packed community forum in the city’s Performing Arts Centre.
He was taking part in the annual Pollie Pedal, along with six opposition MPs and others, which travelled from Adelaide to Geelong.
When asked at the community forum about the federal government’s decision to increase the Medicare levy to two per cent to fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), Mr Abbott said he believed the levy increase would only partly fund the scheme.
“With only half the funding, you will have only half the scheme,” he said.
Mr Abbott also appeared to respond to Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s challenge yesterday that she would introduce legislation for the NDIS before the September election if the opposition supported the levy increase.
“I cannot see why Parliament cannot have further legislation before the election,” Mr Abbott told the forum, which was attended by about 400 people.
“If we could take the NDIS further forward it would be good,” he said.
Mr Abbott faced questions from farmers about their industry’s tough financial situation.
Some in the audience called for an end, or at least a review, of Australia’s free trade agreements which they saw as disadvantaging Australia’s farmers.
However, Mr Abbott’s response was that he supported free trade and Australia had more to lose than gain if it was abandoned.
“If we are prepared to export to other countries, we have to take their exports,” he said.
“If we are capable, dynamic people, we have got nothing to fear from free trade.”
Farmer Power spokesman Chris Gleeson, of Crossley, said agriculture was becoming unsustainable and called on the Coalition to develop a vision that would give agriculture a future.
Mr Abbott responded with: “I am not sure it is all bad in agriculture.’’
“One of the best things we can do for farming is to get a level playing field and make sure market competitiveness is operating,” he said.
Anti-wind farm campaigner Annie Gardner called on Mr Abbott to investigate ‘‘fraudulent’’ use of renewable energy certificates.
She was also concerned the cost of wind energy would impose high power costs on those who could not afford to pay.
Mr Abbott said fraudulent use of renewable energy certificates should be investigated and abolishing the carbon tax would reduce power bills.
To gauge community support for wind energy, he asked for a show of hands either for or against wind farms.
The result was about 50-50, which Mr Abbott said presented government with “an interesting management exercise.”